The pros and cons of teaching adult ESL are many, but whether you are considering a career in adult ESL teaching, thinking of teaching an adult ESL class once a week, or already have some adult ESL classes on your schedule, let’s examine a few of the rewards and challenges.
Some of the potential advantages of teaching adult ESL may include your students’ strong motivation and their prior knowledge. Plus, it’s just plain rewarding and engaging on a daily basis, unlike many other jobs. Your impact has no boundaries!
- Motivation: Adults often have more motivation to learn than younger learners, as they are often seeking to improve their job prospects or communicate more effectively in their daily lives.
- Prior knowledge and life experience: Adults may have more prior knowledge and life experience to draw on, which can make lessons more interesting and engaging.
- Rewarding and Fulfilling: Teaching adult ESL can be a rewarding and fulfilling career, as you can help adults improve their language skills and achieve their goals. Your goal becomes helping them to achieve theirs, so your impact has no boundaries.
Motivation to Learn: Why Adult ESL Students Have the Edge
As adults, we often have specific goals and needs that drive us to learn and grow. For those learning English, this motivation can be especially strong. Here are a few examples of why adult ESL students may be more motivated to learn than their younger counterparts:
- Career advancement: For adults who work in customer service, sales, or any other field where effective communication is key, improving their English skills can open doors to new job opportunities or promotions.
- Community involvement: For adults who have recently immigrated to an English-speaking country, learning the language can be a crucial step in becoming more involved in their community and accessing important services.
- Personal interests: From traveling to hobbies and passions, there are countless reasons why adults may want to improve their English skills in order to fully engage in their interests.
Overall, adult ESL students often have clear goals and motivations for learning the language, which can provide a strong incentive to stay focused and committed to their studies.
Leveraging Life Experience: How Adult ESL Learners Benefit from Prior Knowledge
When teaching adult ESL, you’ll have students who bring a wealth of life experience and prior knowledge to their language learning journey. Whether it’s knowledge and experience in their profession, culture, or personal interests, this background can be a valuable resource for engaging with and understanding new language concepts. Here are a few examples of the kinds of prior knowledge and life experience that your adult ESL learners may have:
- Professional expertise: Adults who are experts in their field can use their knowledge and experience to make connections between their profession and the language they are learning. For example, a doctor learning English can draw on their medical expertise to better understand and use medical vocabulary.
- Cultural background: Adults familiar with their culture and community can use their knowledge and experience to understand and use language in authentic contexts. For example, an adult member of a cultural or religious group can use their knowledge of traditions and customs to understand and use language in cultural contexts.
- Personal interests: Adults who are passionate about their hobbies and interests can use their knowledge and experience to motivate and engage with their language learning. For example, an adult who enjoys cooking can use their knowledge of ingredients and recipes to better understand and use language related to food and cooking.
5 Effective strategies for leveraging the motivations and prior knowledge of adult ESL learners in the classroom
Here are five concrete strategies that you can use to effectively leverage the motivations and prior knowledge of your students when teaching adult ESL:
1. Use authentic materials
Adults often have specific goals and interests that drive their language learning. By using authentic materials that relate to their goals and interests, teachers can help to engage and motivate adult learners. For example, if an adult learner is learning English for a job in the hospitality industry, you could use authentic materials such as menus, restaurant reviews, or hotel websites to teach language related to the industry. Here are some specific examples of how teachers can use authentic materials in the classroom when teaching adult ESL:
- Use authentic news articles or podcasts to introduce new vocabulary or language structures. For example, a teacher could use a news article about a current event to introduce new vocabulary related to politics or current events.
- Try a TED talk! There’s bound to be a talk on whatever subject your students are interested in. Use TED talks to introduce new knowledge and related vocabulary, practice listening skills, and spark discussions.
- Incorporate short clips of authentic TV shows or movies into listening or speaking activities. For example, a teacher could have students watch a clip TV show or movie and then discuss the characters or plot in small groups or as a class.
- Use authentic websites or online resources to practice reading or research skills. For example, a teacher could have students read an article from a news website and then answer questions about the content or summarize the main points.
- Have students create their own authentic materials by writing a blog post, creating a podcast, or making a video. This can help students feel more invested in their learning and give them a sense of ownership over their language skills.
2. Encourage self-directed learning
Adults often have more life experience and prior knowledge than younger learners, and they may be more comfortable taking a self-directed approach to learning. You can encourage self-directed learning by providing resources, such as BOOM cards, and guidance for students to explore on their own, or by setting up learning activities that allow students to choose their own topics of study.
3. Encourage student collaboration
Adult learners often have a wealth of knowledge and experience to share with their classmates. When teaching adult ESL, teachers can encourage collaboration to allow students to share their knowledge and experience with one another.
With group work activities, you can divide the class into smaller groups and assign tasks that require students to work together. These tasks can be related to a current theme, topic, or concept. Group work activities can help students build their communication and negotiation skills as they work with others toward a common goal.
When placed in discussion groups, students can discuss topics related to the theme or share their personal experiences and perspectives. Discussion groups can help students practice their conversational skills and practice expressing themselves in English. You can provide prompts or questions to guide the discussion and ensure that everyone has an opportunity to participate.
Group projects can be a hit or miss sometimes unless you can provide class time for them to work together. With their busy lives, adults often can’t get together outside of class, so be aware of their situations. However, when possible, group projects can be a great way to encourage collaboration, as they require students to work together over an extended period of time. You can assign projects that allow students to draw on their individual strengths and experiences, such as creating a presentation on a topic of their choice or writing a group essay.
4. Use real-world examples
Adults often learn best when they can see the relevance of what they are learning to their daily lives or future goals. When teaching adult ESL, teachers can use real-world examples to help adult learners see the practical applications of the language they are learning. For example, if an adult learner is learning English for a job in customer service, the teacher could use role-play activities that simulate real-world customer service situations. Here are some specific suggestions for using real-world examples in the classroom:
- Get personal: Invite your students to share stories and experiences from their own lives to illustrate new language concepts. For example, if you are teaching a lesson on describing people, ask students to describe someone they know using new vocabulary words.
- Bring the workplace into the classroom: Use examples from your students’ professional fields to teach new language skills. For example, if you are teaching a lesson on business English, use real-life job postings or business emails to illustrate new vocabulary and language structures.
- Explore your community: Use local landmarks or events to teach new vocabulary and language structures. For example, if you are teaching a lesson on describing places, have students describe a nearby park or museum using new vocabulary words.
- Use authentic materials: Incorporate real-world materials, such as advertisements, job postings, or news articles, into your lessons to introduce new vocabulary and language structures. For example, use a job posting to teach new vocabulary related to job titles and responsibilities.
5. Encourage learners to set their own goals
Adults often have clear goals and motivations for learning a language, and setting and working towards personal goals can be powerful motivators. When teaching adult ESL, teachers can encourage adult learners to set their own goals, and help them to develop a plan for achieving those goals. For example, a teacher could help an adult learner to set a goal of improving their speaking skills, and provide resources and guidance for achieving that goal.
Overall, adult ESL learners can benefit greatly from leveraging their prior knowledge and life experience in their language learning journey. This can make lessons more engaging and relevant, and it can help adults to connect their language learning to their goals, interests, and identities.
The Rewarding and Fulfilling World of Teaching Adult ESL
Teaching adult ESL can be an incredibly rewarding and fulfilling career for many reasons. For one, it allows you to help adults achieve their goals and improve their lives. Imagine being able to assist adult learners in improving their English skills in order to secure a better job or communicate more effectively in their daily life – the impact you can have on their future is immeasurable.
In addition to the personal satisfaction of making a difference, teaching adult ESL also provides the opportunity to work with a diverse and interesting group of learners. Adult learners may come from a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, making each day in the classroom a unique and enriching experience.
And let’s not forget the professional growth opportunities that come with teaching adult ESL. Working with adult learners who often have different learning needs, styles, and motivations can challenge and inspire you to develop new skills and approaches as a teacher.
Overall, teaching adult ESL can be a demanding yet rewarding field. The challenges may be many, but the joy of seeing adults make progress and achieve their goals through language learning is truly unparalleled.
However, there are also some potential challenges to teaching adult ESL, including your students’ limited time and attention, their diverse language backgrounds and skill levels, and their pre-existing knowledge and beliefs.
The Time-Challenged Lives of Adult ESL Students
As an adult ESL teacher, it’s no secret that your students’ time and attention can be stretched thin by the numerous demands and responsibilities of everyday life. Your students may have more limited time and attention to devote to learning than younger learners. This can be due to a variety of factors, such as demanding work schedules, family responsibilities, or other commitments.
For example, an adult student may have a job that requires long hours or has a demanding workload, which can make it difficult for them to attend class regularly or devote time to language learning outside of class. Or they may have children or elderly parents to care for, which can limit the time and attention they can devote to language learning. Alternatively, adult students may have other commitments, such as hobbies, sports, or community activities, that also compete for their time and attention.
As a teacher, it’s important to recognize that these time constraints are completely normal for adult learners and to be flexible and adaptable in your approach to teaching. This may mean offering alternative class times, providing additional support outside of class, or finding creative ways to engage your students in language learning.
By understanding the unique challenges that adult students face and being willing to adapt to their needs, you can help them make progress and achieve their language learning goals.
Navigating the Language Diversity of Adult ESL Students
As a teacher of adult ESL students, you may be well aware of the diverse language backgrounds and skill levels of your students. While this diversity can certainly enrich the classroom experience, it can also present challenges when it comes to creating suitable lesson plans.
For instance, your students may have different first languages, which can affect their ability to learn English and their approach to language learning. An adult student who speaks Spanish as a first language, for example, may have a different set of language skills and challenges than an adult student who speaks Chinese as a first language.
Additionally, your students may have different levels of proficiency in English, which can make it difficult to create lessons that are suitable for all learners. A beginner in English, for example, may have very different learning needs than an advanced learner.
Strategies for addressing a range of proficiency levels in an adult ESL classroom
Here are a few strategies that teachers can use to deal with a range of proficiency levels in the same adult ESL class:
- Differentiate instruction: One way to address the diverse proficiency levels in a class is to differentiate instruction. This means adapting the content and methods of instruction to meet the needs and abilities of individual learners. For example, a teacher could use a variety of materials, such as text, audio, and video, to cater to different learning styles and provide multiple entry points for learners.
- Use scaffolding: Scaffolding refers to the use of strategies and support to help learners build upon their existing knowledge and skills. For example, a teacher could provide extra support for lower-proficiency learners by breaking down a task into smaller steps or providing additional examples or explanations.
- Encourage peer learning: Peer learning can be an effective way to support learners of different proficiency levels. Teachers can encourage learners to work together in pairs or small groups, with higher-proficiency learners serving as mentors or tutors for their lower-proficiency classmates. So that students don’t feel like you are expecting them to do YOUR job, share with them the learning pyramid, which suggests that people remember 90% of what they teach others.
- Use formative assessment: Formative assessment involves regularly checking in on learners’ progress and providing feedback to help them improve. By using formative assessment techniques, such as quizzes or worksheets, teachers can identify areas where learners need additional support and adjust their instruction accordingly. Providing material with self-checking components, such as BOOM cards or activities made with Easel by TpT, will allow students more autonomy, and they can self-direct their learning.
- Allow for flexible grouping: Flexible grouping involves organizing learners into different groups based on their needs and abilities. This can allow teachers to provide learners with more personalized instruction and support. For example, a teacher could group higher-proficiency learners together for more challenging activities while lower-proficiency learners work on activities that are more suited to their abilities.
And let’s not forget the unique learning styles, preferences, and needs of each individual student. An adult student who learns best through hands-on activities may have different learning needs than an adult student who learns best through reading and writing.
As a teacher, it’s important to be flexible and adaptable in order to create lesson plans that are suitable for the diverse group of adult learners in your classroom. By being open to adjusting your approach and finding creative solutions, you can help your students navigate the challenges of language learning and make progress toward their goals.
Overcoming Resistance: Strategies for Working with Adult ESL Students’ Pre-Existing Beliefs
As teachers of adult ESL learners, we often encounter students who are resistant to new methods or approaches to language learning. This resistance can stem from a variety of factors, including pre-existing beliefs about how languages should be learned, previous knowledge and experience with language learning, and attitudes or feelings toward learning a new language.
For example, an adult learner who has always relied on rote memorization to acquire new vocabulary may struggle to adapt to a communicative approach that emphasizes real-world use. Similarly, a learner who is used to a grammar-based method may be resistant to a vocabulary-focused approach. And an adult learner who is anxious or intimidated by the idea of learning a new language may be resistant to trying new methods or approaches that seem difficult or challenging. If you don’t have relevant credentials, degrees, and years of experience, they could have an even harder time letting go of what they know to try what you want them to.
So, how can you overcome this resistance and effectively engage adult ESL learners in their language-learning journey? Here are a few strategies that may help:
Strategies for overcoming resistance
- Be sensitive to learners’ pre-existing beliefs and attitudes. Take the time to understand what your students are bringing to the table and try to find ways to incorporate their previous knowledge and experiences into your lessons.
- Offer a variety of learning activities. Mix up your lesson plans to include a variety of activities catering to different learning styles and preferences. This can help to engage learners who may be resistant to certain methods or approaches.
- Create a supportive learning environment. Show your students that you are on their side and there to support them in their language-learning journey. This can help to reduce anxiety and build confidence.
- Encourage learners to try new things. Encourage your students to be open to trying new methods or approaches, even if they are initially resistant. Remind them that learning a new language is a journey and that there are many different paths to success.
By being sensitive to adult ESL learners’ pre-existing beliefs and attitudes and finding ways to incorporate these into your lessons, you can create a more inclusive and effective learning environment for all.
As an adult ESL teacher, you have a unique opportunity to inspire and empower your students. Teaching adult ESL learners is not without its challenges, but with creative strategies, you can tailor your instruction to their individual needs. Embrace the rewarding journey of teaching adult learners and watch as your students soar to new heights.
Looking for practical and fun adult ESL teaching material? Drop by my TpT store and my BOOM store for beginner to adult grammar, vocabulary, role plays, discussion topics, pronunciation, and more!
Leave a Reply